Upon returning home from my "day job" yesterday I was treated to a somewhat rare sight. A Barred Owl was hanging around the garden hunting for a meal. Unlike most other owls, Barred Owls often hunt during the daylight hours and this one was doing just that. The quarry? Anything small that moves. There is usually some activity around the compost piles, especially this time of year. We have plenty of vermin to make meals out of here so I'm surprised that it took until March to observe one here. It has been well documented in the local print media that Great Gray Owls and Barred Owls have been common sightings this winter. This happens every few years as the owls move down from Canada when prey gets scarce in their traditional range, mimicking the population fluctuations of these species. Barred Owls do live here but the Great Gray's are uncommon as they typically live further North. Owls can get pretty concentrated in this area and there sometimes isn't enough prey to go around. Some don't make it. Several dead owls have been found this season and that is unfortunate.
I admit, I am a bit of a predator snob. They certainly are a crucial part of the balance of life, keeping certain pests (at least as far as a gardener is concerned) in check. I prefer controlling these things in a natural fashion as opposed to traps or other methods of control. It is really a game of chance, though. All you can do is make the environment appealing to them but you can't make them come. The "If you build it, they will come" approach doesn't always work. All you can do is hope. We always seem to have some critters living off the fruits of our labor here and we hope that when there gets to be too many of them, some predators will move in. Sometimes they do. We've been treated to some real cool sights in the 19+ years we've been gardening here.
The Barred Owl is a medium sized owl, up to 24" in length. It's distinguishing characteristics include but are not limited to the dark eyes. The Great Gray Owl is similar in size, (perhaps a bit larger) but it has yellow eyes. Also, the horizontal "barring" around the neck is unique to this species, hence the name.
Spotting the owl yesterday was the high point of my day. Things like that are what makes living and gardening here worth the extra time and effort (and frustration) that it requires. Special treats happen every now and again in the wild and in the garden and one must always appreciate them for what they are when they happen. I have not noticed it around today but my hope is that it had a good meal last night and solved some of my problems for me. Perhaps it will return. I can only hope. Come to think of it, I haven't seen any rabbit tracks around here in a while.